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The 21 Day No-Complaint Challenge

Back in 2007, I realized something was odd. We had returned from a family cruise, and when I told people about it, I kept hearing myself tell stories only about what went wrong. Out of my mouth came amusing anecdotes about mishaps, blunders, and gripes. I was so tickled by how absurd this seemed that I recorded a podcast called “Complaining about the cruise.”

I am proud to say that, albeit almost a decade later, I have changed.

I am no longer complaining.

Want to know how I did it?

I took part in what is known as the 21-Day No-Complaint Challenge. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. You challenge yourself to go 21 days without complaining. At the start of August, immediately after learning about it, I started, figuring I would be victorious shortly thereafter. It took me more than 6 attempts and until the end of September. But I did it. I went 21 days without complaining.

This exercise changed my life.

Forcing myself to think before I spoke (“Is what I am about to say a complaint?”) re-wired my brain. It was difficult at first, of course. But, I didn’t complain aloud about it! I lost the challenge repeatedly after four or five day stints. Then, after a really good round of 16 days, I got a bad flu and, well, while I complained less with the aches and pains than ever, not complaining didn’t happen. With each attempt, it became less and less challenging. In fact, now, I might average a verbalized complaint once a week.

I’m not certain that the people around me noticed much difference. (If they did, they haven’t said anything.) But I have noticed. I can’t help but link this exercise to the fact that my mood has changed for the positive. And how couldn’t it? I haven’t been saying negative things.

(To make keeping track of my days since complaining, I downloaded a free app called “Days Since” which I reset every time I needed to start over.)

The logic of complaining is like the logic of worrying. Worrying doesn’t change the future; and it makes the present less pleasant. The same is true about complaining. What do you gain by complaining? Is that gain more precious to you than living in a world with fewer complaints?

(As my friend David said, “If I don’t complain, do I even exist?)


Let me ask you, other than hearing yourself complain, what do you have to lose?! It’s a great challenge.

So, I hereby challenge you. Why don’t you give it a try?

(Obviously, if you are going through large emotional turmoil, now isn’t the right time to do this.)


When I spoke with people about this process, I learned that a lot of people would rather not do this alone. A lot of people prefer to do such a thing with an accountabilibuddy – a buddy to whom you are accountable.

Here are three options to getting an accountabilibuddy:

Ask someone you know to join you. Say, “Hey, Rabbi Brian gave me this challenge … would you try it with me?” (If they say no, ask someone else.)

Send me an email and I’ll hook you up with another person from the newsletter who also wants a semi-anonymous buddy.

Join the ROTB Facebook Group and post your progress to the online community.

Here is a short video that explains the 21-day-no-complaint challenge along with another gratitude practice I will write more about later.

With love, Rabbi Brian

(Visit his website Religion Outside the Box)

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